HIV Infection Rate Down But Gov’t Can Do More: Experts

The rate of HIV infection in Cambodia has decreased in the past year, according to new figures from the National AIDS Authority (NAA), but experts say further work is needed to prevent new infections and increase access to medical treatment.

Speaking at Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk Theater on Tuesday during an event to mark World AIDS Day, NAA chairman Ieng Mouly said that among people between the ages of 15 and 49, the rate of HIV infection presently stood at 0.6 percent, compared to 0.7 percent last year.

Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An speaks during an event to mark World AIDS Day in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An speaks during an event to mark World AIDS Day in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“Currently, there are about 70,000 people with AIDS [in Cambodia] and about 50,000 have received medical treatment,” Mr. Mouly said, stressing the need for new awareness campaigns that target young people who do not remember the country’s AIDS epidemic of the late 1990s—when the rate of infection hit 1.7 percent.

“Some youths do not receive education like 10 to 20 years ago, when that information was widely disseminated during campaigns, so we have to start again,” he said.

Contacted after the event, Tia Phalla, vice chairman of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD, said cases such as the mass outbreak of HIV in Battambang province’s Roka commune last year—believed to have been caused by an unlicensed medic who has admitted to reusing syringes—were indicative of systemic problems with the health care system.

And with overseas aid decreasing as Cambodia moves toward middle-income status, Mr. Phalla said, the government has been left to pick up the slack.

“Donors seem to judge our situation is not an emergency, because we achieve so much,” he said. “The focus was on projects and programs and not so much on institutional support. Now the path needs to be done through the government, through health services.”

Last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed to eliminate new HIV infections in the country by 2020 and put $3.7 million toward funding of anti-retroviral drugs for those already infected.

Mr. Phalla said he believed new HIV infections could be eliminated by 2025, but that the government needed to more proactively regulate the health care system.

“The Ministry of Health needs to inform people not to use unsafe physicians and also to discourage people or punish people who operate without license,” he said.

Choub Sok Chamreun, executive director of Khana, an HIV support and prevention NGO, said that an estimated 17,000 people infected with the virus still had limited access to anti-retrovirals.

“These people still live in a hidden situation: They don’t have access to services, or they do not know their status,” he said, explaining that rates of infection were still high among marginalized groups.

“Key populations are female sex workers, men [who have] sex with men, transgender people and people injecting drugs.”,

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